The mood was surly in a dressing room inhabited by the Deftones, the ninth of ten bands scheduled to play at the 1996 U-Fest, an annual rock festival that erupted into a riot, causing a reported $150,000 in damage to Desert Sky Pavilion on October 5.
The Deftones, a rap-flavored heavy-metal band from Sacramento, California, had been touring for 16 months, and were scheduled to stay on the road through December. The band members complained bitterly to their manager about the backbreaking schedule.
Singer Chino Moreno--the man TV news reports would later blame for inciting the riot--was feuding with drummer Abe Cunningham. "Everyone's nerves were obviously frazzled," a source close to the Deftones says. "Every time Chino came in the room, you could feel the tension."
The musicians were also drinking heavily. Several sources said that the four Deftones and two roadies went through a fifth of Malibu rum, a liter of Captain Morgan's rum and "a cooler full of at least 30 Budweisers" in the hours leading up to the band's disastrous, three-song performance.
"They were in no condition to walk onstage," says Joel Grimes, a critic for an online music magazine who went backstage just before the Deftones began to play. "Chino was pretty polluted."
From all reports, their playing was well below par. "They sucked," says Patrick McCleary, 36, an "old-school punk rocker" who was near the stage. "The lead singer was so wasted he was stumbling, and they were sloppy. But I wasn't that interested in their music . . . I was more concerned with the crowd at that point."
Paid attendance at the U-Fest, which is sponsored by radio station KUPD, topped out at 11,228, and the crowd got rowdy early. About three hours before the Deftones went on, teenagers in the grassy "cheap seats" set several fires during a set by the Hunger. (The U-Fest is infamous for crowd behavior. Last year, several dozen people stripped naked, and several bonfires were set during a headliner performance by the band Korn.)
During the Hunger's set, a member of the band called for the kids in the cheap seats to hop the metal barricade separating them from the reserved seating and VIP areas beneath the pavilion's canopy.
"Hundreds surged over the gates and made it to the front stage area before security could get the crowd under control," says local music writer Emma Tenney. "People in the VIP section were waving and encouraging the gate crashers to join them."
About 30 minutes later, a gang of teenagers launched a raid on a concessions tent and ran off with a keg of beer. The drained keg was soon seen being "crowd surfed" in a mosh pit close to the stage.
McCleary says many among the mostly under-21 crowd were obviously intoxicated. "I've never seen so many shit-faced teenagers . . . except for maybe at a Rolling Stones concert 15 years ago."
The Deftones went on at 9:45 p.m. and muddled through two songs before Cunningham stood up from his drum set, kicked over a cymbal and stormed offstage.
Moreno took the drumsticks and played a meandering percussion solo for several minutes before Cunningham returned and the band launched into its final song. During that number, a fan climbed over a wooden barricade and tried to get onstage. A security guard--one of more than 160 that Desert Sky officials say were on hand--tried to drag him back, but Moreno ran to the foot of the stage, grabbed the mosher's outstretched hand, then helped pry the security guard's grip loose.
A sound man cut the Deftones' power, and all hell broke loose. According to a written statement by Desert Sky Pavilion, the stage monitors were turned off because ". . . the Deftones had performed their entire prearranged 30-minute set. It is customary at the conclusion of a band's set to turn off the stage monitors in anticipation of the set change."
Moreno didn't see it that way. "He yelled, 'Fuck that shit, we're going to keep playing,'" says Grimes. "Their manager was trying to get them to just get off the stage, but [Moreno] wouldn't leave."
What happened next is the subject of debate. Evidently, the stage monitors were cut off--so the band couldn't hear anything onstage--but the main speakers were still on. Grimes, who was on the stage, and Tenney, who was in the crowd, both say they heard Moreno yell something akin to, "Come on and help us trash this place."
But McCleary, photographer Craig MacNaughton, and Joey Nugent, a former Deftones roadie, all say they heard Moreno yell something like, "Okay, these guys are being assholes. Come help us show them what assholes we can be."
"That second wave stretched from one side of the stage to the next," says Grimes. "It looked like a horde of Mongols coming over the wall."
The Deftones manager grabbed the mike and tried to calm the crowd. "He said, 'Listen up. Please, everybody, get off the stage,'" says Nugent. "And then he told the sound man, 'If you don't turn the sound back on, there's gonna be a riot.' But the sound stayed off."
By this time, the stage teemed with teens. The Deftones started to play again, without monitors, and some of the kids got off the stage. But the band quickly gave up, grabbed its gear and ran.
Someone lowered the stage curtain. "That did no good," says MacNaughton. "They just ripped it down, and it was pretty much anarchy from then until the cops showed up."
Once the kids took over the stage, Nugent says, "It was pretty obvious they were going to destroy everything they could. They started picking up monitors and throwing them, and jumping up and down on speakers."
McCleary says there were 20 or 30 security guards near the stage when the rioting began.
"They were way outnumbered and really scared," he says. "You could see it on their faces. They were thinking, 'This is not worth five bucks an hour.'"
Witnesses say they saw several security guards crouched in a section reserved for handicapped patrons, watching the action around them and making no attempt to intervene.
McCleary and MacNaughton both say they saw one red-haired security guard beaten with folding chairs. Amateur video taken from the stage shows kids ripping up seats, setting fires, throwing water coolers, scaling ladders to catwalks and mooning a Phoenix police helicopter that hovered overhead.
Witnesses say 20 or 30 minutes of mayhem elapsed before a 20-member Phoenix police "quick response team" in riot gear arrived and dispersed the crowd with tear gas and pepper spray.
Detective Mike McCulloch, a Phoenix police spokesman, says seven people were arrested and cited for disorderly conduct. McCulloch says no serious injuries were reported. The case is still under investigation, he says, and will be referred to the Maricopa County attorney, who may charge Chino Moreno with inciting a riot.
Rock-concert veteran McCleary doesn't believe Moreno is guilty of that charge.
"I was watching those kids all day," he says. "And they were primed for this sort of thing. That guy [Moreno] didn't say any more than I've heard a lot of other assholes say onstage.
"The problem was the people running the festival let the momentum for violence build up too high. They should have stopped it earlier. Instead of all these condescending announcements to settle down, they should have just sprayed the crowd with water and tossed out seven or eight giant beach balls. That usually works."
After the crowd was dispersed, MacNaughton says he was taking photographs when he was approached by three security guards and a man who identified himself as general manager of Desert Sky. MacNaughton says the man demanded the film from his camera and, when MacNaughton refused, ordered the security guards to strip his camera of film. The guards grabbed MacNaughton, put him in an arm lock, and did just that.
Asked about the incident, Desert Sky director of marketing Mike Styles replied in a written statement, "Our standard venue policy requires that film from unauthorized photographers be forfeited." MacNaughton, however, had a press pass for the event that he says he showed the security guards. (As the photos accompanying this story attest, MacNaughton managed to escape with two rolls he had shot during the melee.)
Even after things calmed down at Desert Sky, the Deftones could find no safe haven.
Chino Moreno, Joey Nugent and other members of the Deftones' entourage had adjourned to the Purgatory, a Phoenix bar at 24th Street and Van Buren, when members of the goth band Type O Negative, which had been scheduled to follow the Deftones onstage at the U-Fest, came into the bar with their road crew.
"It was crazy," Nugent says. "All these guys with long black hair walk into the place, and one of them points out Chino, so Chino gets up and comes in front of the table, and he's like, 'What?' And Type O Negative's drummer [John Kelley] goes, 'You're a rock star, you act like a rock star, and you're a fucking pussy.' And, wham! He just hit Chino in the throat and everyone started fighting."
Through a publicist, the Deftones have refused to comment on any events before, during or after the U-Fest. The band has also canceled all scheduled interviews.
KUPD is not commenting, either.
Asked whether Desert Sky planned to sue anyone, Styles replied in his statement that "KUPD and Desert Sky are still investigating the incident and we have not yet ruled out litigation."
No word yet on the lineup for U-Fest 1997.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Marijuana Legalization Could Improve Arizona Tourism
- Ex-Arizona Lottery Director Tony Bouie Probed by State AG's Office
- This Lady Vows to Herd Felines at Amazing Acro-Cat Circus in Phoenix